Marleigh Culver has come a long way from youthful experimentations with Photoshop and Illustrator on her parents’ home computer. Now wielding both paint and digital tools, the 30-year-old’s art and design work have graced textiles and leather, canvasses and office spaces. She’s collaborated with Nike, Google and Coach; a puzzle project she was part of got a nod from editors at The New York Times. She’s a recent Los Angeles transplant by way of New York City, but her Virginia Beach hometown still claims her heart. We caught up with her to talk art, plants and family.
You’ve had some cool projects and worked with well-known brands, but that 2019 Art of Signature twist on a Coach bag seems really special.
Oh yeah. It just felt so insane and luxurious and, like, surreal. It’s still one of my favorite projects. I think the campaign for last year was executed so well; it felt fresh, but not too, like, out in the art and design world. I felt like it was really welcoming and just really bright and fun.
Were you intimidated to collaborate with such an iconic brand?
Yes. I feel intimidated all the time no matter who it is because I want to do the best job that I can. I want to make something that I can look at five years later and still feel good about, you know? So yeah, it was super intimidating.
Tell me about the “Migula” puzzle you created for Ordinary Habit that came out in July.
I love the colors; those blues and the greens feel really calming to me. So, I wanted to make a puzzle that looked aesthetically pleasing, but that was a little difficult. And it definitely was because I had a hard time on it, putting it together. But it was just such a cool experience. I think it came at a perfect time, you know, with the pandemic and people being at home; it was just really cool to see it in use.
Was that an original design for that project?
I think it was an edit based off an unreleased illustration that I had done. I wanted to make sure that it felt, like, kind of even, and perfectly confusing.
What drew you to an abstract expression of your art?
I remember specifically going to museums and always being drawn to the huge paintings on the wall that were always kind of, like, abstract expressionism or minimalism or color fields. So, anything that was very undefined and big and color – artists like Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell – I was always so in love and drawn to it, I think because there’s so much space in that work. … I just like the escape of abstract, you know? And I also am not that good at realism at all anyways, so that kind of works out for me. The curves and picking the colors, it just feels very intuitive for me. It’s just a process I really enjoy.
Plants are a common theme. Why turn to nature for something like abstract art?
It’s kind of funny hearing you ask the question and how I think about it now; it’s like I’m taking something that already exists and I’m just, like, messing it up really hard.
Well, and plants especially are known for order and symmetry.
Yeah. I’m looking at palm trees right now. Plant symmetry is super cool, it looks gorgeous. But say you’re drawing a circle, and you know which direction you’re supposed to be drawing and putting your pencil to make a circle, but sometimes I’ll just like do a hard left or hard right – just go the wrong way. I think I like the interruption in line work; that’s really exciting to me.
Your new series with the Tappan Collective is called “Fellini Dreams.”
Every other day I’ll have a dream and it always feels just so insane and absurd. And I just like translating that through my work, and I’m trying to figure that out because I started off doing work that was kind of flat. Now I’m trying to add layering into my visual work and then into my painting, which is definitely more complicating of the process, but I just want to make things feel more full and saturated. My dreams just always feel like a roller coaster so I’m trying to translate that visually.
What’s the appeal of murals?
I think I started my first mural in 2018, so, you know, I’m still new to it. But it’s just essentially like scaling up a painting. It is super rewarding because it does take so much physical exertion. My arm is sore for days after doing murals.
Do you think about the access a mural gives people to your art?
Definitely. It’s something that you can experience without owning it and it adds a layer to wherever you are, like when you walk into a room and you see a hand painted mural on the wall, that feels like there’s care and there’s want for human connection there.
You had some help to complete The Pink Dinghy mural, right?
I hate asking for help just in general in life, but especially with a mural, because I know that it is manual labor and I’m very specific about how I want my mural to be executed. But it does make it really special that I did that with my parents and my fiancé. It’s kind of like a weird, random, public memento to, like, our love for each other or something.
And in your hometown, too.
I’ve been wanting to do something in Virginia Beach for so long. So, I’m really excited that that’s kind of the first and only thing that I have there because it’s one of my favorite murals ever.
Interview condensed and edited for space and clarity by Victoria Bourne.